Advancing sustainable forage-based livestock production systems in Colombia (CoForLife)

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: IBERS

Abstract

This project aims to improve cattle productivity on Colombian pasture-based farms by using a multidisciplinary approach that will link forage productivity and quality to animal productivity and farmer attitudes and practice. It will use a combination of remote sensing of forage production and animal behaviour together with measurements of nutrient utilisation and system losses to determine ways of improving the efficiency of animal growth and help reduce the environmental burden of cattle production.

This collaborative project brings together a range of expertise from the UK and Colombia to address ways to increase the uptake of improved forage crops for dairy and beef production. Remote sensing (using drones and satellite data) will be used to assess plant growth and nutritional composition, providing spatially explicit data on when, where, and how nutritious the forages are. This will be combined with new ensiling techniques to conserve forages at times of good growth for use in times of low feed availability (i.e. the dry season). Animal behaviour and digestive physiology will be monitored on farms to determine cattle use of feed resources in relation to their growth characteristics and linked to the remote sensing data. Improved efficiency of use of captured carbon and nitrogen for productive purposes is balanced with potential pollutant outputs, and the fate of excreted nitrogen in soils will be determined to investigate the effects of forage plants on efficiency of nitrogen recycling (and losses) from the production system. The economics of the use of novel forage resources will be modelled to investigate the potential benefits to farmers of planting new grazing pastures, and to help them take investment decisions under changing climate conditions. Farmer behaviours in the use of improved forage resources and methods on their farms will be studied to analyse their motivations and potential barriers to the implementation of more efficient farming practices. Engagement with farming communities is an important element of this work, because their knowledge and understanding is vital to successful design, implementation and dissemination of the project work and outputs.

Planned Impact

The primary direct beneficiary of this research will be Colombian cattle farmers, but cattle farmers in other Latin American will also potentially benefit in the longer term. Improving farm plant diversity, forage crop growth and nutritional composition, enabling better cattle diets in greater quantities will help improve the nutrition of the farmers' households and their animals. Use of more resilient forages, which have better agronomic characteristics than commonly used varieties, will help reduce crop failure risk and will help improve feed resources by providing crops for conservation for use in times of poor crop growth. The targeted incorporation of forages in agricultural landscapes also has the potential to avoid land degradation/restore degraded land, and thereby ensure long-term agricultural sustainability.

However, there are many barriers to the uptake and use of new forages on smallholder farms, many of which are complex and multi-faceted. Farmer motivations change, and therefore it is essential that there is ongoing improvement in the understanding of the key choices made by farmers. Project results will be useful to farm advice and support networks working towards reducing poverty in smallholder communities, by offering new perspectives and providing vital information on benefits of, and barriers to, technology uptake to enable new approaches to their implementation. Remote sensing of crop biomass and composition, and modelling of farm economics, both offer the potential to help farmers make decisions about their farm. Women in particular are a major component of smallholder farm labour, and yet are frequently left out of the decision-making processes; an important aspect of this project is the use of gender-inclusive participatory processes.

The academic community will benefit from increased understanding of forage crop availability and use of forage resources by growing animals on small-to-medium sized Colombian cattle farms. Novel information will be generated on changes in plant nutrient use efficiencies following changes in soil management practices. New data on the biological nitrification inhibition potential of plants such as Brachiaria will be produced, indicating the potential contribution of crop and livestock farming to climate change mitigation through reductions in nitrous oxide emissions from excreted nitrogen. Project information will be presented at local and international scientific research conferences to ensure appropriate scrutiny and as wide dissemination to the international academic community as possible. We intend to make the original data available open access as a resource for future researchers after the lifetime of this project, to maximise its future value.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description Taught MSc training
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation on Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) applications for agriculture, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), hosted by Prof Maofang Gao, Deputy Director of Agricultural Remote Sensing Department, Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning, Beijing, China on 30th Oct 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description CoForLife stakeholder engagement meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A stakeholder engagement workshop was held at the Instituto Interamericano de Cooperacion para la Agricultura, Bogota, Colombia, to present results from previous Newton Fund projects with CIAT and to inform them of plans for future work. Participants, approximately 20 people, included representatives from the Colombian Round Table of cattle producers, Agrosavia, the Colombian Federation of Cattle Producers, and the British Embassy in Bogota. Participants expressed interest in being involved in the field work and in helping to disseminate results to their members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Dairy workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Invited oral presentation at 'Skimming the cream: Developing potential to build dairy farmers' resilience in Malawi and Scotland" on 19th June 2019 at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow and organised by the National Centre for Resilience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Feed for efficiency and reduce emissions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Article in Cow Management trade magazine about using improved forage varieties for more efficient livestock production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Feeding for Sustainable Milk Production from Dairy Cows 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation at the Velcourt Annual Farming Conference & Farm Manager Briefing, January 2020, about the role of improved forages for sustainable milk production. Audience members were keen to know more about the use of new forage varieties for improved animal production and reduced environmental impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Feeding for sustainable milk production from dairy cows 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation at the House of Commons about the benefits in using improved forage varieties for more efficient livestock production. Discussion generated interest, including some subsequent print media articles.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Focus group for female-only participants 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A focus group was held with female-only participants (10 women, the vast majority of them first-time participants) from an organisation called FUNAMUAFRO. Key outcomes of this focus group were to create sub-groups of female-only farmers to develop productivity goals and tasks to fulfil individual and group needs. In addition, based on previous work presented to the group, FUNAMAUFRO members decided to change some of their farming practices, particularly those related to cattle feeding and selling, as they have realised this is not efficient from an economic perspective.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Focus group workshop with mixed gender smallholder farmers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A focus group was conducted with a mixed group of smallholders (6 women and two men) to share preliminary findings from earlier to include participants' reflections and insights. Feedback was that climate change is shaping their daily farming activities, and the acknowledged the value of new technologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Greenhouse gases from ruminant livestock - how much, and what can we do about them? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at a Farming Connect CPD seminar: "Greenhouse gases from agriculture & potential mitigation strategies". The presentation led to a good discussion and invitations to speak at other events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Human Development & Capability Association (HDCA) conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The paper titled "Seeing climate change as an opportunity: the case of Afro-descendant Colombian smallholders exposed to new technologies in agriculture" was presented on July the 2nd, in Session 2 "Sustainable human development in postcolonial contexts: trajectories of adaptation to global changes in the Americas". The talk encouraged attendees to get in contact with the speaker (PDRA Marcela Ramos) to find out more about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whova.com/embedded/speaker/hdcac_202006/10909765/
 
Description Presentation at Tropical Pastures Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation of talk entitled "The role of improved pasture varieties on ruminant nutrition and productivity (in tropical systems)" at CATIE, Costa Rica. Participants discussed the use of improved forage varieties for more sustainable livestock production in Costa Rica and other Latin American countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description University visit (Nankai, China) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Oral presentation on advancing sustainable forage-based livestock production systems using multi-source remote sensing delivered at an international Environmental Science Workshop - Nankai University, 10th - 12th May 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on Sustainable Livestock Systems for the Andes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop with participants from Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador was held to discuss ways of developing more sustainable livestock systems in the Andean regions of South America, in particular using novel varieties of forages grasses - both tropical and temperate. Outputs included the identification of areas for development which would be most beneficial economically and environmentally for local and regional agricultural.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019